The Big Ponder

Goethe-Institut

This transatlantic podcast explores abstract concepts and phenomena through personal radio essays. Every other week, one of our producers transforms a broad topic into a captivating story told from a US-German perspective.

All Episodes

How do you quantify something as indescribable as happiness? Michael Hobbes searches for a way to measure life satisfaction that works in both the U.S., his old home, and Germany, his new home. 

Nov 24

28 min 16 sec

A lot has changed since the first days of aviation, from beverage service to affordable plane tickets. Florenz Gilly and Leon Ginzel recap the history of transatlantic flight and reflect on their own experiences crossing the big pond.

Nov 10

29 min 42 sec

As a kid, candy makes the world go round. As an adult, it has the power to bring back long-forgotten childhood memories. Carol McKinley talks about the magic of candy with Tony Vallejos who ran a vintage sweet shop in Colorado.

Oct 28

29 min 5 sec

Community is the story of our lives. It is who we are, who we have been, and who we hope to become. Melissa Gerr visits Jewish congregations in Baltimore, Maryland, and Dresden, Germany, where she speaks with members about the importance of community.

Oct 14

29 min 19 sec

Have you ever thought about dropping everything to pursue your passion? Susanne Papawassiliu profiles Mike Powers who left his life in Florida behind to do just that. Today, Mike resides in Berlin, where he spends his days making art.

Sep 30

28 min 48 sec

How many people will you meet in your lifetime? How many will you remember? Fascinated by the countless chance encounters in their own lives, Susannah Edelbaum and Monika Müller-Kroll reveal the ways that casual interactions affect us all.

Sep 16

28 min 44 sec

Cariad Harmon and her partner John Kesling embark on a long-awaited cross-country road trip. Cariad interviews locals and fellow travelers of all kinds at national parks, truck stops, and diners while sharing intimate details of life on the road — the good and the bad.

Sep 2

30 min 19 sec

Our ability to hear is fully formed after just four and a half months in the womb. From this early age, sound shapes our worldview. Jim McKee, a sound designer himself, interviews experts who have built careers by learning to listen to the world around them.

Aug 12

28 min 22 sec

Americans on the East Coast were in awe when Brood X, an enormous group of 17-year cicadas, suddenly emerged from underground to mate. Melissa Gerr, who lives in Maryland, was no exception. Inspired by this local wonder, she sets out to explain the feeling of awe.

Jul 29

28 min 59 sec

By the 1920s, people had begun using coin-operated record booths to create audio souvenirs — immortalizing their thoughts and feelings on a disc. Cariad Harmon travels to one of the last remaining record booths in Louisville, Kentucky, where she captures her own voice and revisits some touching messages from the past.

Jul 15

28 min 53 sec

In her early 20s, Sibylle Baier recorded 14 folk songs that she says saved her life. Then, she packed the tape away and forgot about it. Decades later, her son discovered his mother’s music and released it — to critical acclaim. Sibylle tells her story for the first time to Carol McKinley.

Jul 1

28 min 50 sec

Working with personal diary entries, Dina Elsayed and Monika Müller-Kroll take listeners on a journey through the seasons to different places in the U.S. and Germany. These entries create a mosaic of our daily lives in all its contradictions and parallels, seriousness and banality.

Jun 3

28 min 10 sec

There exists a strong tradition of hunting in both Germany and the U.S. However, the cultures surrounding this pastime differ more than you might think. Ada von der Decken and Moritz Gerlach speak with hunters from both countries to find out what drives people to pursue the sport.

May 20

28 min 53 sec

Is ‘home’ a place or more of a feeling? Jocelyn Robinson speaks with three American expats who unpack the relationship between self and place, drawing from their experiences living in Germany, on the Diné Nation, and in Senegal.

May 6

27 min 57 sec

What happens when you uproot an American institution like the diner and place it somewhere entirely new — like Germany? Florenz Gilly and Leon Ginzel journey into the world of diners, visiting hometown restaurants in the U.S. and Germany to find out.

Apr 22

30 min 32 sec

Inspired by a year of forced isolation, essayist Bilal Qureshi explores the history, landscape, and meaning of friendship across cultures. At the heart of his examination is the question: Who do we call a ‘friend’ and why?

Apr 8

28 min 47 sec

One day, Jakob Lewis receives an email from a German man named Ingo asking to be his pen pal. The close relationship they develop teaches Jakob that strangers can connect on a deep level — even when an ocean and a language barrier separate them.

Mar 25

27 min 54 sec

Producer Alex van Oss ponders the external, internal, and eternal meanings of buildings in his Washington, D.C. neighborhood. The result is a personal rumination featuring thoughts from friends and neighbors on their buildings, homes, and communities.

Mar 11

28 min

In both Germany and the U.S., the flag can be divisive, eliciting pride in some and unease in others. From patriotism to protest, Jocelyn Robinson explores the role that these symbols play in proclaiming who we are.

Feb 25

28 min 10 sec

Since World War II, there have been countless American GIs stationed at military bases all over Germany. Sylvia Cunningham and Monika Müller-Kroll talk with some of the people who once lived in these ‘Little Americas’ and decided to stay in Germany.

Feb 11

28 min 52 sec

Katie Davis tells the story of an inadvertent provocation between two boys at a teen center in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood, the conflict that developed, and the ensuing efforts to prevent it from escalating.

Jan 28

24 min 52 sec

Bilal Qureshi explores the German-English idea of ‘Wanderlust’ through his personal audio archives and conversations with fellow travelers. Does this romantic idea hold up in the age of fast travel and fleeting social media?

Jan 14

28 min

Jakob Lewis and his wife Catherine transformed their front yard in Nashville into a garden. From conception to harvest, Jakob meditates on the lessons he learned about imagination, play, and grief, all the while drawing on the wisdom of Goethe.

Dec 2020

28 min

“We have the right to hate Germany because we love it,” German writer Kurt Tucholsky wrote. Listening to positions from both sides of the Atlantic, Sylvia Cunningham and Monika Müller-Kroll explore the love-hate relationships people have with their home countries.

Dec 2020

28 min 59 sec

Ingrid Crepeau is a successful US-American puppeteer, performer and puppet-designer based in the Washington, DC area. Her time in Darmstadt, Germany in the late 1950s kindled her interest in puppeteering. For this episode of The Big Pond, our own Technical Director Flawn Williams reports on her transatlantic career.

Oct 2019

26 min 38 sec

Berlin and Los Angeles share a common problem: homelessness. Producer Caroline Porter reports on topic, which is the focus of the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles and the Thomas Mann House in LA. This episode is a contribution of the Thomas Mann House to The Big Pond.

Oct 2019

13 min 22 sec

People of mixed heritage lead complex lives, often navigating between two racial and/or cultural identities. Our producer Jocelyn Robinson, who lives this experience, explores identity formation in the US and in Germany.

Oct 2019

27 min 4 sec

Since the US Men’s National Soccer Team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, many American soccer players have been looking to sign onto international teams to better their skills and become more competitive. Players like Christian Pulisic, who got his start on the German team Borussia Dortmund, show promise for the future of soccer in the US.

Oct 2019

17 min 20 sec

“It was chaos, it was total chaos.” When the Berlin Wall unexpectedly fell in 1989, it triggered a time of massive flux for the newly reunited capital of Germany. Subcultures and international trends combined with other creative forces to establish Berlin as a mecca for artists. For The Big Pond, KCRW Berlin speaks to Berliners who helped build the city’s lasting legacy.

Oct 2019

19 min 45 sec

After moving from Cologne, Germany, to New York City, our producer Thomas Reintjes had trouble adjusting to walking in the bustling metropolis. Traffic, crowds and high-rise buildings made it difficult for him to get away from everything. By sharing their personal experiences, the writers Lauren Elkin and Garnette Cadogan teach him how to walk in New York City.

Sep 2019

17 min 11 sec

In 1925, the African-American philosopher Alain Locke (1886-1954) launched a revolutionary black arts movement now known as the Harlem Renaissance. In this episode of The Big Pond, producer Bilal Qureshi traces Alain Locke’s ideas back to one city in particular – Berlin.

Sep 2019

34 min 12 sec

Chris Strachwitz is a man possessed. A “songcatcher,” capturing and recording the traditional, regional, down-home music of the US, his adopted home after his family left Germany following the end of World War II. His archive is jam-packed with 78s, LPs, 45s, reel-to-reels, cassettes, videos – a collection of all manner of recordings. For The Big Pond, The Kitchen Sisters present the story of Chris Strachwitz.

Sep 2019

29 min 22 sec

Historically, New Orleans is a cultural, spiritual and ethnic melting pot. In the streets, you immediately come across signs of French, Caribbean, Native American and Spanish influence. Hard to imagine that there were German immigrants here at one time! But once you know how to read the clues, the picture changes – producer Martina Groß explores Germans’ long history in New Orleans.

Sep 2019

13 min 32 sec

It seems like there are more people nowadays with tattoos than there used to be – of the body art is hidden, but most are quite visible. Men and women alike have black, gray and colorful designs covering their arms, legs, or even their entire bodies. Our producer Anne-Rose Heck tries to find out more bout how this phenomenon is spreading across both sides of the Atlantic.

Aug 2019

9 min 55 sec

Since 2016, the German scientists Sonja Schrepfer and her husband Tobias Deuse have led the Transplant and Stem Cell Immunobiology Lab at the University of California in San Francisco and the Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf. It is funded by NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. Our producer Iris Völlnagel reports on their contribution to space travel.

Aug 2019

14 min 56 sec

In these times of increased awareness of environmental protection, the bicycle is on the rise again. In Germany, especially medium-sized cities such as Freiburg are aiming to create an infrastructure that encourages bicycling among their citizens. Our producer Anne-Rose Heck investigates the current developments for this episode of The Big Pond.

Aug 2019

19 min 19 sec

During the Nazi regime, many German artists, scientists, and other intellectuals found refuge in Southern California. The authors Lion Feuchtwanger and Thomas Mann were two of the most prominent "exiles in paradise." Producer Kerstin Zilm takes us on a trip to their former homes in Los Angeles – the Villa Aurora and the Thomas House – both of which have been rededicated to transatlantic dialogue.

Aug 2019

28 min 55 sec

In this radio travelogue, culture writer and journalist Bilal Qureshi explores Germany’s capital Berlin to find out about local origins, regulations and daily rituals of silence. To his ears, German Stille sounds and feels more present than the pulsating noise of US-American cities – and this episode of The Big Pond is a personal quest to understand why.

Jul 2019

28 min 44 sec

In this episode, producer Katie Davis profiles German-American photographer Volkmar Wentzel who was born in Dresden, Germany in 1915 before moving to the US with his family in 1926. He grew up in Upstate New York, shortly after relocating to Washington, DC. In DC, he was hired by National Geographic and became one of their legendary field men who traveled and photographed the world.

Jul 2019

12 min 31 sec

The Bauhaus school of art, architecture and design was founded in 1919 and lasted for only 14 years before the Nazis forced it to close in 1933. And yet, the Bauhaus and its founding members continue to have a profound impact on the design-, construction- and building-world that it is fair to call it one of the most influential schools to date.

Jul 2019

19 min 28 sec

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet military administration officially cut off roads and rails into West Berlin in the Berlin Blockade, isolating it from the rest of West Germany. In this episode of The Big Pond, KCRW Berlin reflects on the Berlin Airlift, a massive multinational effort to bring vital supplies to West Berliners via plane during the blockade. To tell this story, producers Monika, Nikki, and Sylvia interview some of those who experienced it firsthand.

Jul 2019

19 min 21 sec

German and American libraries have influenced each other’s development tremendously over the last few centuries. During this time, the library has been defined as a space dedicated to research and knowledge - and books. These days institutions in both countries are faced with challenges brought on by rapid shifts in technology. Experts address the threat that technology poses and weigh in on the future of the library in the era of digitization.

Jul 2019

28 min 2 sec

Producer Jakob Lewis was born in a military hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. His dad was stationed at a U.S. army base in Woelfersheim, a nearby village. Jakob grew up hearing stories about his parents’ time in Germany during their early 20s, but Jakob doesn’t remember any of it. He left when he was six months old and he’s never been back. For this episode, Jakob and his wife Catherine set out on a journey to retrace his parents’ footsteps - what they didn’t realize was just how closely their journeys would be linked.

Jun 2019

29 min 24 sec

America is a country of immigrants. Most people know that Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the US besides English, but there’s more than just Spanish here - German immigrants helped found this country. In some parts of Texas, their culture and language still live on... But probably not for much longer. This funny-sounding dialect, a mixture of Texan English and German from the immigrants who settled here in the mid-1800s, is slowly dying out.

Jun 2019

28 min 56 sec

Although it’s not certain who first wrote the recipe, the Black Forest cake has been fully embraced by the Black Forest community as an essential aspect of their cultural identity. On a quest to understand just how this confectionery classic came to be, producer Katharine Sammer journeys to its namesake, the Black Forest. There, she speaks with local experts about the region’s history, the cake’s origins, and the significance it holds for the community and their ancestors.

Jun 2019

19 min 15 sec

Hop on board Berlin’s Ringbahn, a suburban train that carries over 400,000 passengers each day and circles some of the city’s most authentic and lively neighborhoods. Producer trio Monika Mueller-Kroll, Sylvia Cunningham, and Nikki Motson dedicate a day to riding the Ringbahn around the city. During their trip, they interview an array of Berliners entering and exiting at the train’s 27 stops, each station an entry into one of Berlin’s distinct districts.

Jun 2019

23 min 41 sec

Milwaukee has been called the most German city in America - already in the 1840s, large numbers of Germans who were fleeing wars in Europe began settling in the city. In this episode of The Big Pond, our producer Carole Zimmer explores the experience of these first generation German immigrants and looks at how the city has changed for a younger generation in the way that they relate to German culture.

May 2019

12 min 4 sec

Dieter Kosslick is one of the film world’s best known film festival directors. He’s put his stamp on the Berlin International Film Festival for the past 18 years, and the 69th edition of the festival in 2019 was his last. For The Big Pond, the The Kitchen Sisters talked to Dieter Kosslick and many of the people he collaborated with over the years, resulting in a career-spanning profile.

May 2019

27 min 6 sec

Rents in San Francisco have exploded in recent years; by now, the metropolis in Northern California has overtaken New York as the most expensive city in the US. In Germany’s capital Berlin, the issue of affordable housing is also a hot topic – some are even suggesting dispossessing companies owning more than 3,000 apartments.

May 2019

31 min 54 sec

Three women, two countries, one shared experience: Motherhood. From giving birth to receiving support – our producer Melissa Gerr looks at the role and expectations of being a mother in the US and in Germany, revealing some startling differences.

May 2019

24 min 46 sec